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As We Knew Him: A Tribute To Jackson Burnside

By ALESHA CADET Tribune Features Reporter IMPRESSED and moved by One Family's 2011 Boxing Day tribute to the late Jackson Burnside, the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas (NAGB) decided to stage its very first Junkanoo related exhibit. Opened last Friday under the theme "As Knew We Him - A Tribute to Jackson Burnside III", the exhibit celebrates Junkanoo and an important Bahamian cultural icon at the same time. NAGB director Amanda Coulson said One Family's performance during the Boxing Day parade was so "touching, artistic and creative", that she and the staff at NAGB felt the need to bring that same Bay Street flavour to the gallery and suitably honour the men and women who made it happen. Ms Coulson said Mr Burnside invested so much in Bahamian cultural life, including in the One Family Junkanoo group and the NAGB itself, and her hopes are to continue in that spirit. Presently on display at the gallery during the six-week exhibition are selections of One Family costumes, Mr Burnside's own Junkanoo-inspired paintings and writings, a recreation of his creative work space and objects of inspiration from his office. Also part of the exhibit are his own personal costumes and musical instruments, photos, videos and drawings inspired by the Junkanoo shacks by artists studying at the College of The Bahamas. "This is not a retrospective of Jackson, the artist, that will come in time; it is a celebration of Jackson, the man, and what he believed in: that art is life, art is for everybody and it can be expressed in a myriad of ways," said Ms Coulson. Not only was the NAGB director impressed by One Family's Boxing Day Junkanoo presentation, she said it was also something she had never really seen before. "We often see flora and fauna, perhaps historical or political events, but the topic of art itself and a tribute to a great artist who was a true-true Bahamian, and the way the group portrayed that in their costumes, was extremely original," she said. Bringing the worlds of "fine art" and "folk art" together, she said she sees this exhibit as an opportunity to bring the artists from the shacks up the hill to the gallery and to treat all kinds of creativity as equal. Speaking about the Jackson Burnside creative space section in the gallery, reconstructed by Mr Burnside's widow Pam Burnside and his daughter Orchid, Ms Coulson said you can see how and where he got his ideas from. Mrs Burnside told Tribune Entertainment: "It is a red room and we were asked to put some of his memorabilia in there. There are some of his photos, his costumes and articles on Junkanoo in there. It is like we created his home shack." The exhibition is definitely a "wow" experience for her, she said. "It is immensely significant, not only because Junkanoo is being displayed in all its splendour while merging with the various elements of Jackson's artistic life, but because this exhibition has also allowed fine art and folk art to finally come together in this fitting venue, a goal that Jackson had striven to accomplish in life and which, ironically, he has achieved in death," said Mrs Burnside. For the next six weeks, Mrs Burnside said, the public will have the opportunity to experience the power of Junkanoo. "Junkanoo will garner the respect it deserves as art, with membership numbers for the NAGB hopefully increasing significantly." Sharing her late husband's belief that it is more important to win in the community than to win on Bay Street, she said the exhibit is a giant step towards focusing on the natural talent Bahamian artists possess. Giving the exhibition a fitting opening last Friday, One Family staged a small rush-out. "The Junkanoo was amazing, their hearts were really in it. A lot of people came form around the neighbourhood to enjoy it. Seventy per cent of the people had probably never been in the gallery before, so I feel like we really reached out to the local community," said Ms Coulson.

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